healthcare, Interview, War on Women, Women — September 4, 2014 at 11:52 am

INTERVIEW: Lizz Winstead on standing up for women, from V to Shining V


A conversation with the co-founder of Lady Parts Justice on feminism, grassroots activism and using humor to drive serious change.

Lizz Winstead is a woman with a mission. If you’re lucky enough to talk with her one-on-one, there’s no missing her fiery determination. She’s serious about changing the landscape of reproductive laws across the country that hold women back — and she’s doing it in a hilarious, super-fun way.

That, in a nutshell, is Lady Parts Justice and the first annual V to Shining V Paloooza happening across the country on September 27. For a primer,
check out my previous post
. But here’s what you need to know: People are coming together to celebrate women and figure out good ways to kick out bad, women-hating politicians in every state this November. It’s one big party of grassroots activism at official events, house parties and other gatherings across the country.

There’s even more to it than that. I spoke with Lizz about why she and her cohorts created LPJ and V to Shining V and what they hope to accomplish. Here’s the interview, edited for clarity and length. We had a heck of a good conversation, and this is all the juicy stuff.

Tell me some of the backstory on how Lady Parts Justice came to be.

The Lady Parts Justice mission is to bring some awareness to each state so that they can throw these V to Shining V events every year for two reasons. One, to say “Women, we are on that ballot and not in a good way.” Every year there’s somebody trying to curb our access to reproductive health — something related to our reproductive justice, which includes childcare, which includes SNAP benefits, which includes abortion rights, which includes the whole nine yards. Two, do it in the fall where it’s fun and we all get together and we raise awareness for what’s happening on the ballot and we commit to each other that we will go to the polls and get people to the polls — more than 10 million more women than men turned out voting in the big election — let’s make sure that we have a way of reconnecting them because they need to turn up at the polls every fall and to do it in a fun way that’s awesome.

So we created this new, interesting way to socialize, to connect with our friends, to connect with like-minded people and to just insert this new awareness into the way we live our lives. We need to start prioritizing what it means to be paying attention to what happens to women in legislation.

What’s driving you personally in all this?

How I came into my own feminism was as a cis white woman, I was at the door slapping my face so much just about access to things I wanted to do whether it was a job, whether it was standup comedy, whether it was access to birth control as a young woman, whether it was abortion rights, so I thought, “If I’m getting the door shut on me what happens to somebody who isn’t in the privileged seat? What’s happening to women of color? What happens to trans women who need healthcare in a whole different way? Are they being shamed, are they being stigmatized? Are women getting the access they need? Where is the justice for all of us?”

I just looked at it and thought, you can’t check out and just kind of focus on how you’re treated. You have to look at it as a whole, otherwise you’re not really looking at feminism that’s really helping women.

So Lady Parts Justice — and V to Shining V — is a way to bring the community together.

Yes. It was inspired by states that had some really crappy reproductive health laws and then really crappy voting laws. So I wanted to bring together people from all these different creative spaces to be with each other, to say, “My experience is not the only one” and “My experience is the one that I bring to the table and I want to open my eyes to all of your experiences. Let’s all be in this together.” You should always try to be present in some way to make this whole bigger thing happen for people.

Obviously, you’re going to use humor. It’s who you are. But why do you think humor is especially effective?

If somebody makes you laugh, you instantly connect with them. It makes you feel good so you want to be around them. So if they’re infusing you with some joy and then through that joy there’s a little IV drip of information, then all of a sudden there’s not an ugliness. Maybe you won’t change someone’s mind — I mean, if you believe that life begins at conception I’m not your girl — but if you have been sort of hibernating on this issue and somebody can wake you up to the fact that this stuff is going on, I think humor is the best way to bring people in.

Humor is a really fun informational tool. In states like Michigan or Ohio or Pennsylvania, people get a little bit comfortable because they think all the reproductive rights issues are happening in the South. But in Michigan, you’ve got some of the worst reproductive laws in the country and some of the worst proposed laws ever — and the people who proposed them are still holding office.

So when people visit the Lady Parts Justice website and check out the videos, then they read about the terrible laws in their state and think “God, what can I do?” Well, they can register to vote or donate to an abortion activist fund or come to a V to Shining V party. That’s all on our website, along with an Action section where you can find other ways to get involved.

Everything, from the videos to the official events, are being organized at the local level, right?

Right. We have volunteers at the state level. There isn’t a video on our website that doesn’t have input from local people on the ground. And then talent came to me and wanted to get involved — like Sarah Silverman, who is from New Hampshire and wanted to do a show there, and Holly Miranda who is from Michigan and wanted to do a show there. Sally Kohn called and said she wants to help in Pennsylvania. We’ve got poets, we’ve got musicians, we’ve got local politicians and activists. Texas is doing a block party in Austin — every event is different.

What I really want to stress is that you can go to our website and invite friends over for a house party. We have party kits you can order on the website with party games, balloons, cups and fun stuff. We want people Instagramming and Facebooking and Tweeting because the main thing is that we want people talking on September 27. So we have all these cool events, but if you can’t get to one you can throw your own party.

So there’s really no excuse not to take part in this national event — and why wouldn’t you want to?

Exactly. Throw a party, get together at a bar, sit at home and order a pizza and check out what other people are doing online and be part of the conversation. You don’t have to spend any money. You can do a potluck. You can go to the website and find a party someone else is hosting. We just want people to make a commitment to get involved on September 27th, to get together with some people to get informed about what’s going on in your state, come up with a plan to get rid of some douchebag in your state — even if you just make some funny flyers or whatever. The idea is to exchange ideas, raise awareness and then get people to the polls to vote in November.

What’s the big goal here? What do you hope to accomplish with Lady Parts Justice and V to Shining V, this year and beyond?

I want to get women back together where we laugh and look each other in the face and realize that we all have something to offer — and together we are a fucking power that can’t be stopped. Knowing that some people will try to do everything in their power to keep us separated and pit us against each other, we need to take the exact same amount of energy to push back against that by doing what we’re good at: connecting and caring.

All photos by Anne C. Savage, special to Eclectablog, captured at Netroots Nation 2013.